A Northwoods Almanac for 9/29 – 10/12/2017 by John Bates
Hawk Ridge Migration Stats
On Sunday, 9/17, the winds changed. We’d had 10 days straight of south-southwesterly winds and rain, and a cold front was coming through. The winds moved to westerly, perfect for migrating hawks. We had to work around the house that day, but I wondered what we might be missing at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. Well, we missed 27,290 hawks! Broad-winged hawks ruled the day, comprising 26,270 of the total count, but 615 sharp-shinned hawks also came through, as did 107 American kestrels, and 169 bald eagles.
The counters also tallied 4,354 migrating non-raptors, including 1,513 blue jays.
That wasn’t the best day for blue jays. On 9/12, they counted 7,365!
Birds of all types – hummingbirds to eagles – are winging south, and the woods are getting quieter and quieter.
Loon Migration Starting
“Our” loons should be now starting to stage prior to their migration. Social flocking starts in late-summer, usually on large lakes or on lakes that contain unsuccessful territorial pairs, but in fall, loons often gather in large groups of hundreds or more on big lakes like Trout and Fence. Mille Lacs Lake, a huge 132,000-acre lake in Minnesota, is well-known for hosting as many as 700 loons in October prior to their migration.
Adults loons migrate independent of their chicks and of each other. Unsuccessful breeders may leave their breeding areas as early as August and begin staging, well before those with young do. Parents generally migrate first, while the young remain on their natal or adjacent lakes often until near freeze-up.
Peak migration in our area occurs in late October, and by late November, most migrants have arrived in their wintering areas. Fall migration is usually a protracted affair with the loon initiating their long-distance migratory flights in the morning. When flying over land, loons may cruise at altitudes as high as 9,000 feet, but when they’re over water, they often migrate within 10 to 300 feet above the surface.
Loons, of course, aren’t only migrating from northern Wisconsin. In the continental U.S., Minnesota has the largest population of common loons with more than 10,000 adults. Wisconsin has an estimated 4,000 adults, while Maine has 4,100 adults, New York 800, and New Hampshire about 500.
Canada puts the States to shame with about 250,000 adult common loon pairs, roughly 95% of the world’s population, plus all the juveniles and non-breeders.
Totaled all together, an estimated 710,000 to 743,000 common loons will migrate this fall of which 103,000 to 108,000 will likely be juveniles. The estimate of migrating adults is based on breeding loon counts, and the number of juveniles is based on a 25-year statewide dataset in New Hampshire that shows 17% of the fall loon population is comprised of young-of-the year.
“Our” loons spend the winter season about 80 miles offshore along the Florida coast and Gulf of Mexico. The distance between breeding and wintering grounds of loons in Minnesota and Wisconsin ranges from 1,170 to 1,570 miles. Some individuals stage on lakes along the way and may even over-winter in larger reservoirs in Tennessee and Alabama.
One- and two-year olds remain throughout the year on their wintering sites and don’t return until their third year.
Goldfinch Still Feeding Young
Watching our feeders on 9/15, I noticed an adult American goldfinch feeding seeds to its chick, which seems mighty late to still be raising young. But goldfinch are perhaps our latest nesting birds, with nesting beginning late June or early July, peaking in the second half of July and occasionally continuing into September. Like most songbird chicks after fledging, the young remain dependent on their parents for about three weeks.
In looking at their range map, goldfinch that breed in Canada will migrate south, but “our” goldfinch may or may not stay the winter. Age and gender strongly contribute to who goes where: Female goldfinch winter farther south than adult males, while young males winter further north than adults.
Sightings: Gray Treefrog, Moose, Solitary Sandpiper, Greedy – Turkey TailRobins
Lisa DeHorn sent me a great photo of an Eastern gray treefrog. She wrote, “While preparing for a walk at the Willow Flowage nature trail on 9/6, we encountered this beautiful frog next to the parking area. I'm guessing it's a graytree frog, but I’m not quite sure. It was very small – only an inch long and about 3/4" wide. It had a thin black stripe horizontally across its eye, but that was the only visible marking. It reminded me of a large key lime in color, texture of skin and size.”
|eastern gray tree frog photo by Lee Teuber|
Eastern gray treefrogs are masters of changing color based on the temperature or the color of their surroundings, and can range from gray to brown to green to mottled. They should be going into hibernation soon, though with our warm weather earlier this week, they may have thought it was still August.
Laurie Fuhrman Ellingsrud sent me this note: “While paddling near the mouth of a small bay on Day Lake yesterday (912), I heard some crashing in the woods, and paused to see what it might be. A young bull moose! I watched it sniff the air and mosey along the shoreline for a bit, then it got in the water and swam along the south shore.”
Sarah Krembs sent me a fine photo of a solitary sandpiper she had seen for a number of days in our area. Solitary sandpipers breed in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska and winter in the tropics, from northern Mexico south through much of South America. They are indeed a solitary bird, the name referring to the species' solitary habits in migration, which contrast with the flocking behavior of most other migrant sandpipers.
|solitary sandpiper photo by Sarah Krembs|
And a flock of robins invaded our yard last week and stripped off every one of the mountain ash berries on our two trees. I told them repeatedly that those berries were to be saved for winter food for other birds who would need them far more then, but they ignored me.
|robin eating mountain ash berries - photo by John Bates|
Autumn equinox came and went on 9/22, and now we’re on the dark side of the year – night is now longer than day for the next six months.
For planet watching in October, look at dusk for Jupiter very low in the southwest and only for the first week of October. Look also for Saturn, also very low in the southwest, but it will hang around until late in the month.
Before dawn, look for Venus brilliant and very low in the east, along with Mars. On 10/5, Venus and Mars will almost be on top of one another. The full moon occurs on 10/5 as well.
October 4 marks the anniversary of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. Launched by the Soviets in 1957 as a great scientific achievement, the Goddard Space Flight Center now lists 2,271 satellites in orbit.
Look for the peak of the modest Draconid meteor shower in the predawn on 10/8.
Mushroom for the Week – Turkey Tail
Turkey tail, Trametes versicolor, comes in an array of colors from beige, to blue-green, to orange, to various shades of brown. All resemble the flared tail of a turkey, thus the name. And all are saprophytic, living off the remains of dead, decaying wood.
|turkey tail mushroom photo by John Bates|
Birds in Art – Road Trip Time
Birds in Art opened on September 9 and runs through November 26. Since 1976, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau has organized Birds in Art annually, presenting exceptional contemporary artistic interpretations of birds in perhaps the finest art exhibit on birds in the country. Approximately 100 works are selected every year, and every year as part of the event, the artists are treated to a trip up north to Hazelhurst for an afternoon on Lake Katherine hosted by descendants of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson family.
The exhibit is always exceptional, and I highly recommend a rainy (or sunny) day trip to view it.
Thought for the Week
“We only value what we know and love, and we no longer know or love the wild. So instead we accept substitutes, imitations, semblances, and fakes – a diminished wild . . . To reverse this situation we must become so intimate with wild animals, with plants and places, that we answer to their destruction from the gut . . . If anything is endangered in America it is our experience of wild nature.” - Jack Turner